Noam Schalit: Deal 'a long way away'

Noam Schalit Long way

Noam Schalit, father of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, stressed that while negotiations "are on the right track," his son's release was not close. "We are on the right track. However, we are not there yet," he emphasized, "and we have a long way to go before we reach our goal." Noam was speaking Monday at the protest tent in front of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, the end point of a demonstrative stretcher-carry - a long-distance march IDF troops usually undergo for training and initiation purposes - staged by a large group of young activists to support the family and call for Schalit's return. The youths marched from the military cemetery atop Mount Herzl to the protest tent, passing the Knesset on their way. Schalit told the activists that "even if for a moment it appears that the release is close and that matters have been agreed upon, all I can tell you is that this is not the case." An overwhelmed Schalit thanked the youths for demonstrating for Gilad's cause rather than spending their vacation time at the beach. He promised that efforts to release his son would not cease. In related news, a source who met recently with Egyptian General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman told Army Radio that he was optimistic about a deal between Israel and Hamas being struck soon. The source added that a list of 450 Palestinian prisoners whose release may be part of the deal was compiled, and that the latest negotiations focused on Israel's opposition to releasing Israeli Arabs and residents of east Jerusalem within the framework of the prisoner exchange deal. Negotiators also discussed big-name terrorists such as Marwan Barghouti, the source told the radio station. Suleiman reportedly stated that such prisoners would not be freed in the preliminary stages, so that their release would not be directly connected to the Schalit deal. Israel was also reportedly demanding that prisoners who committed particularly grave offenses be transferred to other countries or the Gaza Strip instead of to the West Bank. Hamas said Monday the negotiations were being stonewalled by Israel's refusal to release prisoners belonging to the organization's military arm.